Think Design from the Start

A while ago, I wrote a post on the new role of design. The focus of the post was that design should be considered at the start of any project. Since that post, I’ve had the opportunity to make that happen.

The Emergency Management Guide.

Our facility (a church) has a director of security (and a few security employees) to help us manage and think through emergency situations that have and could happen. One of his recent projects was the Emergency Management Guide. This book lays out what every staff person should do in any given situation.

This guide began as an MS Word document built by the Security department. Each page was only a title, and a few bullet points about what to do. The pages got consecutively larger so it would be easy to flip through to a particular topic. At the least, it was just a boring design. At worst, it was confusing and maybe dangerous.

Though all the information was technically accurate, it was cluttered and difficult to understand each step. The text was just a list of bullets and there was no hierarchy of information. The user would have to read the entire page to understand what to do next.

I was inspired by Deborah Adler and the Target ClearRx prescription system:

  • ClearRx came from a desire to prevent mistakes at home.
  • Deborah Adler had personal experience with prescription medication mistakes.
  • ClearRx was about saving lives.

Her key design changes were:

  • a new bottle shape that didn’t have to be turned to be read
  • color coding for family members (mom is green, dad is yellow, etc.)
  • hierarchical information emphasizing dosage and frequency (easy to find)
  • less important (to the patient) information is made less prominent.

We only need to incorporate a couple of these changes. They already had a good “container” for the book (color covers, each with a particular meaning) and color-coding system for the topics. The biggest and most difficult change was to prioritize, organize and standardize the information.

The security department went over their bullets, and highlighted the most important info so we could break out headings and steps. Then we cut out some of the fluffy language (really) to be concise. People won’t have the time or attention to read a lot of text. Finally, we standardized the language so it’s consistent through the guide.

The Process

Confession: Our director of security brought this booklet and a design request to our department. All it asked for was help in duplexing the small booklet. It seemed like a simple enough job, but we couldn’t seem to make it work. The best solution just seemed to be for me to rebuild the thing, but I had no intention of working out a full redesign. That’s what started this whole process.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I started with simply trying to make the content more appealing. Maybe if the page looked better, people might actually want to read it. It didn’t help and just cluttered the book even more.

I began to realize the importance of the information. There had to be a better way to communicate it. I had read about Deborah Adler and ClearRx while writing my previous post and knew that was what the guide needed.

It ended up being overkill, but I made notes about ClearRx and compared it to how we could change the Emergency Management Guide. I compliled my notes with a couple of pics of the prescription bottles and met with our security team. It honestly didn’t take much to make my case.

They told explained the purpose of the guide, and what they were using as inspiration. We covered the simple changes that needed to be made, and they were completely open. It’s all about saving lives, after all. All they needed were a couple of mock-ups showing layout and how the text needed to be changed.

They loved the mock-ups, and the redesign was on. I worked with the team to restructure the content; breaking out the step from the descriptions, cutting out unnecessary wording and rephrasing language that could have been unclear.

One of the biggest challenges was the color tabs. We needed 13 distinctly different colors. I started with primaries (red, blue, yellow), moved on to secondaries and finally some tertiary colors. Here’s how I did it:

The final product is printed, cut, laminated and comb bound in-house. Copies of this book are now with the Secret Service and Homeland Security as a resource.

Final Thoughts

I’m frustrated with myself that the redesign of this guide wasn’t my first thought. If it had been easy to print, none of this would have happened. This project didn’t exactly start with design, but we did go all the way back to the beginning to make sure the design and re-thought how this information needed to be communicated.


~ by mitchbolton on September 7, 2009.

One Response to “Think Design from the Start”

  1. I like that you looked at this project as a “life-saving” opportunity. While that may sound hyperbolic, it’s really not. The lamination is great. Really well done, Mitch.

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